One ‘party’ State | Sunday Observer

One ‘party’ State

4 December, 2022

State officials who are asked to retire early have organised retirement parties at tax-payer’s expense with entertainment and catering courtesy the State.

Is any more evidence necessary that the State sector has become so burdensome that it has ceased to become a mere liability?

The Sri Lankan State sector is now such an anachronism that it can be described as one of the chief reasons the people of this country suffered as they did this year during the historic once in a lifetime economic meltdown.

As it is well known we are nowhere out of the woods yet, and are still looking down the barrel at various situations including a possible failure in debt-restructuring that would put some of the recovery plans on more precarious terrain.

Though that may be the unlikely worse case scenario, which country wouldn’t plan for a worse case scenario after it has been through a passage straight from hell just a few months back with acute shortages of everything from domestic gas to diesel and petrol for basic transportation?

What’s the mentality in this context of public servants that are planning retirement parties and gifts to themselves on State account? Is this a top down syndrome?

If there is no urgency that’s seen in the matter of recovery and righting the ship of State, some may say that that’s contagious and that the everyone from those in the public service to the hotel sector are condemned to live on in a fool’s paradise.

Sounds logical except that it’s not true because the private sector is not having any illusions, but is working overtime to get its act together.

But what does it get as a reward but profligate, insensitive public servants who are still suffering from a sense of entitlement, partly because there is no indication that they are being told that their privileges are an unfair burden on the rest of the country.


The other aspect of all this is the question that inevitably needs to be asked. Are we pathologically a nation that does not seem to be able to understand that we are our own worst enemies?

Are no amount of lessons enough? The country went through a period of meltdown in which the people suffered thirteen-hour power cuts and endured gas and fuel queues that snaked around multiple office and residential blocks that extended up to six kilometres. If all that happened for Government servants to come back and host parties on the ‘State dime’, to use a borrowed expression, well then what hope is there?

The most charitable explanation for this type of behaviour is that those who cannot afford much on their own think that they can take a last gasp and live a normal life only if they are corrupt and live most of the time at the expense of the State.

If that’s the attitude, it also shows that none of the fundamentals of the problems we are facing as a nation have been considered by any of the citizens of this country — most of all its Public-servants.

These fundamentals have not been grasped by many among the country’s political leadership either, argue others, who see this type of indifference as being the default position among the country’s pampered elites.

For the ordinary people, there are no default positions. If there is a meltdown and a recovery phase, they are so acutely aware of it because their lives literally depend on the recovery. Not so for Government servants and the political elite who are cosseted as they are assured of a livable salary and perks no matter what.

What does all this do to the sustainability of the social fabric? A lot of damage.

The private sector workers give 100 percent of their effort and make sacrifices in spite of that, because inflation has eaten into their earnings. But they work as if there is no tomorrow because they feel if they don’t, there will be no tomorrow indeed.

They have been promised that if they do work hard the economy would recover and the country would be back to normal, a necessary condition before their lives return to any semblance of normality.

But these beliefs appear very illusory when they see Public-servants planning retirement parties at State expense and acting as if nothing has changed and nothing needs to change either.

If this public sector status quo does not change and attitudes don’t palpably undergo a radical transformation, social unrest would be brewing and there would be little point in saying ‘no unrest would be tolerated’. There is so much resilience that’s hard-wired into the system and no more, and too many glaring displays of inequality would mean that there would be a breakdown somewhere in the social order.

Inequality it is, when ordinary people put their shoulders to the wheel and go through immense tribulations to be treated to the spectacle of an elite class that remains untouched because ‘they are part of the Government machinery.”

Someone may even argue that the capitalist classes and the business-ownership that amasses considerable wealth has at least worked to create their wealth and are providing jobs in the process, whereas the ‘elite’ that work for the Government are generally shirkers and grafters who do relatively little work and are corrupt to boot.

How did these unsavoury practices — the loathsome idea to host retirement parties for Government servants leaving the public service — take hold in the country? There has been precedent of sorts at least in the education sector.

There was a time when teachers in Government schools expected students to fund presents for them at the end of term, and some students that didn’t comply were penalised when it came to marking of papers and so on. Things became so bad that there were times teachers asked for specified gift items for themselves such as refrigerators and so on.


It’s not certain that these practices have been outlawed in Government schools, but this is all terribly bad precedent and have inculcated the idea, especially among young people that a cushy job in a State institution gave them a ticket to scrounge on the ordinary people.

The answer to all this has been to ‘discipline’ the offenders, but when the offenders have got used to treating the Government service as a slush fund or a place where they can siphon off the ‘fat’ from the State for their own personal self-aggrandisement, discipline is not necessarily the answer because it has become a structural issue.

The structure of the State apparatus is skewed and it lends to some citizens being considered more equal than others.

Is there a political will to change the structure or is it not a matter of political will but some other issue — something that the people essentially do not know about?

Of course it is known that politically it may not be advantageous for any regime to cut the ‘fat’ (they sometimes call it pork in America …) in the Government service, but then not making any changes in this situation is also not going to endear those who feel that the real issues that need to be attended to in securing the ship of State are not exactly being addressed.

At least that’s how the perceptions would be for as long as there are issues that no amount of discipline could control in the long run.

Even if Public servants who want to celebrate retirement at State expense are read the riot act and disciplined, there would be some others who would on some future occasion seek to find other ways to siphon off more funds.

In fact they don’t have to wait another day because it’s happening all the time. The State sector is leaking tax-payer funds and it happens with every litre of fuel that’s pumped into cars that aren’t necessarily used for gainful purposes, and there are plenty of them ‘in the service of the State.’